Part 3 out of 7
say that we mustn't talk--while we were waiting for the people in the
other room to go away. And then Mrs. Wollaston came and got me. She
didn't see her at all. She had disappeared somehow by that time."
He stopped but Jennie, it seemed, had nothing to say just then. She
turned away to her outdoor wrap but she laid it down again and stood
still when he went on.
"You don't want to run away with the idea that I'm in love with her," he
said. "That isn't it. That's particularly--not it. I haven't an idea who
she is nor any intention of trying to find out. Even if I knew the way to
begin getting acquainted with her, I'm inclined to think I'd avoid it.
But as an abstraction--no, that's not what I mean--as a symbol of what
I'll find waiting for me whenever I get down to the core of things ...
I've got a sort of--superstition if I don't do anything to--to break the
spell, you know, that sometime she'll come back just the way she came
With a little exaggeration of the significance of the act, she put on the
coat she had crossed the room to get. He got up and came over to help her
but he stopped with a sudden clenching of the hands, and a wave of color
in his face as he saw the look in hers. At that she came swiftly to meet
him, pulled him up in a tight embrace and kissed him.
"Good luck, my dear," she said. "I must be running and so must you. I'd
take you with me only we go different ways. Carry your score along to the
Wollastons. That's the first step to the princess, I guess."
The episode upon which March had built the opera he called _The Outcry_,
was one that was current during the autumn of 1914. A certain Belgian
town had been burnt and it had been officially explained that this was
done because the German officer who was billeted upon the burgomaster had
been shot. The story was that the burgomaster's son shot him because he
had raped his sister. The thing got complete possession of March's mind.
At first just the horror of it and later its dramatic and musical
possibilities. He saw, in orchestral terms, the sodden revelry in that
staid house--with its endless cellars of Burgundy. He saw the tight-drawn
terror in the girl's room where she lay in bed. He saw the room lighted
fitfully by the play of searchlights over the city; the sinister entrance
from a little balcony through the French widow, of the officer in
uniform, his shadow flung ahead of him by the beam of the searchlight. He
saw the man, blood--as well as wine--drunk, garrulous and fanatic with
the megalomania of the conquering invader. He saw the man's intention
made clear from the first, but the execution of it luxuriously postponed.
Safely postponed because of the terrified girl's acceptance of his
assurance that if anything happened to him, if a hand were raised against
him, her father and a dozen more hostages would be shot and the town
burned to the ground. Then came the girl's irrepressible outcry when he
first touched her; the brother's knock at the door; her frantic effort to
reassure him frustrated by the officer's drunken laugh; the forcing of
the door and the fight half in the dark; the killing of the girl and then
of her ravisher.
The thing that wouldn't let March alone, that forced him into the
undertaking, was the declaration of the brutal philosophy of the
conqueror made by the officer while he gloated over the girl who was to
be his prey; the chance to put into musical terms that paranoiac delusion
of world conquest. One recognized in it, vaguely, some of 'Wagner's
themes and some of Straus', distorted and grown monstrous.
The thing had haunted March, as I have said, and he had tried to find
somebody who would write him the book, the indispensable preliminary to
his getting to work. Failing here, he had audaciously made up his mind to
write it himself. It was not his first attempt to do, in the mere light
of nature, a thing commonly supposed to be impossible except at the end
of painful instruction. He had once experimented at painting in oils, he
had tried his hand at the stylus, he had made a few figurines in
modeling-wax. He wrote his play, then, by the simple process of building
first with painstaking accuracy, a model of his stage, the girl's room in
that burgomaster's house with the French windows giving upon the little
balcony. He modeled the furniture in plastiscene. He bought three little
dolls to represent his characters. And then he reported what he saw
happening in that room; what his characters did and what they said. By
the time he had finished this work, the music was all in his head. He
couldn't write it down fast enough.
It had been one of the great experiences of his life, writing that opera.
Jennie's reminder that he had once believed it good, was a conservative
statement. LaChaise and Paula were deeply impressed by the power, both of
its music and its drama and saw possibilities in it for a sensational
success. The drawback, fatal unless it could be overcome, lay in the fact
that the dominant role in it was that of the baritone. Dramatically the
soprano's part was good enough, but there was nowhere near enough for
her to sing. There was no reason though, they both asserted, and sent
March away from their conference at least half convinced, why the girl's
part could not be greatly amplified. There were various expedients;--a
preliminary scene between the girl and her brother; an apostrophe to an
absent lover; a prayer. Also instead of being frozen into terror-stricken
silence by her ravisher's monstrous purpose, she could just as well be
represented as making a desperate resistance. She could plead with him,
denounce him; attempt to take advantage of his drunkenness and trick him.
It could be made as good a woman's part as the big act of _Tosca_.
March had assented to all this and gone to work.
Paula did not tell him, as he had gloomily prophesied to Jennie, to take
the new first scene he brought her that Sunday out to the ash can. And,
indeed, it sounded so much better when they read it over together, that
he was for the moment reassured. But her attitude toward the opera was
different from the one she had taken toward the group of Whitman songs,
and this difference grew more marked at their subsequent sessions over
it. There had been about the songs the glamour of discovery. One does not
hasten to apply the assayer's acid to treasure trove. And, too, it was an
altruistic impulse which had prompted her to take up the songs.
There aren't many people who can travel steadily, or very far, on that
motivation, and Paula was not one of them. From the moment when she took
the plunge, ignored--all but defied--her husband's wishes, and signed the
Ravinia contract, she ceased to be concerned for anything, broadly
speaking, but her own success. March's opera, then, was not, to her, the
expression of his genius but a potential vehicle for hers. She was
acutely critical of it. She knew what she wanted and it was not
thinkable that she should put up with anything less.
She was not aware of this change of attitude. She was blessed with a
vigorous non-analytical mind that asked no awkward questions,
suggested no paralyzing doubts. The best thing that could possibly
happen to March's opera was that it should be made to fit her; that it
should demand precisely all her resources and nothing that was beyond
them. Obviously, since it was going to be her opera, a thing she was
going to wear.
Had she been, as many eminent persons in her profession are, a mere
bundle of insensate egotisms complicated by a voice, she would have
driven March to flat rebellion in a week, all his good resolutions
notwithstanding. What made it tolerable was that she had a good musical
intelligence of her own, and a real dramatic sense. He could recognize,
what she wanted as an intelligible thing, consistent with itself. Only,
it was not his thing-not the thing he saw. By reason of its very
consistency it was never the thing he saw.
"She wouldn't do it that way," he would protest.
"I would," Paula would tell him. "I wouldn't lie there, whimpering."
He was always arguing with her--wrangling, it almost came to,
sometimes--in defense of his own conception. For a sample:
"Look at what she is; a burgomaster's daughter. That means prosperous,
narrow-minded, middle-class people. She's convent-bred, devout. She's
still young or she'd be married. She's altogether without experience.
She's frightened just as a child would be over what's going on in the
house. And the prayer she says when she goes to bed would be just the
nice little prayer a child would say, an Our Father or a Hail Mary,
whatever it might be. As simple as possible, on the surface, but with an
undertone of overmastering terror. The sort of Promethean defiance you're
talking about would be inconceivable to a child like that."
"I suppose it would, to most of them," she admitted, "but this one's
going to be different. After all, it's the exceptional ones that usually
have operas written about them. I don't believe all the dancers in
Alexandria were like Thais, nor all the gipsy cigar-makers in Seville
like Carmen. I don't believe many little Japanese girls would feel about
Pinkerton the way Cio Cio San did. Why can't our Dolores be an
The only answer he could make to that was that it spoiled the other
figure, reduced him from a sort of cosmic monster to the mere custom-made
"What if it does?" she retorted. "This isn't being written for Scotti or
Vanni Marcoux. It's being written for me." That was the tonic chord they
always came back to. It was Paula's opera.
March presently began to feel, too, that he was growing to be nothing
more than Paula's composer. It was important to the success of their
enterprise that his reputation should be intensively exploited among the
rich and influential who figured as patrons of the Ravinia season. She
went at the task of building it as ruthlessly as she remodeled his opera.
Her demands upon him were explicit. In the first place he was to bring
her all his music, early as well as late, trivial as well as important,
in order that she might select from it what, if anything, might be
exploited at once. She had promised to give a recital just before Easter,
in aid of one of the local charities--it was one that boasted an
important list of patronesses--and if she could make an exclusive program
of his songs she would like to do so. Then, while it was too late to get
any of his compositions performed by the orchestra this season, it would
be a good thing to get Mr. Stock to read something in the hope of his
taking it for next year. An announcement, even a mere unofficial
intimation, that Anthony March (whose opera ... and so on)--was to be
represented on the symphony programs next season, would help a lot.
What dismayed him most was her insistence--she was clear as a bell about
this--that he himself get up the accompaniments to some of the simpler of
his songs so that when she took him out to meet people who wanted to hear
a sample of his music then and there, they could manage, between them,
some sort of compliance. He nearly got angry, but decided to laugh
instead, over her demand that he be waiting, back stage, when she gave
her recital of his songs (which she did with great success) to come out
at the end and take his bow in his now discarded uniform. It was the only
reference she ever made to his shabby appearance.
(It was steadily growing shabbier, too, since she left him hardly any
time at all for tuning pianos. She would have been utterly horrified had
she known what tiny sums he was living on from week to week. And it never
occurred to her when she suggested that a certain score of his ought to
be copied, that he could not afford to take it out to a professional
copyist and so sat up nights doing it himself. He did it rather easily,
to be sure, since it was one of the numerous things at which he had
earned a living.)
There was only one of her many demands that he persistently refused to
comply with. And she took this refusal rather hard; acted more hurt than
angry about it, to be sure, but came back to it again and again. When she
discovered that he made no pretense of living at his father's house, she
asked for his real address so that she could always be sure of getting
at him when she wanted him. This he would not give her. If he did, he
said, it would only result in his staying away from there and doing his
work somewhere else. It was one of his simple necessities to know that he
couldn't be got at. He would make every possible concession. Would go, or
telephone, at punctiliously regular and brief intervals, to his father's
house to learn whether she had sent for him, but give up the secrecy of
his lair he would not. It wasn't possible.
I think she compensated herself for this refusal by sending for him
sometimes when she did not really need him, just to be on the safe side,
and, on the same basis, engaged his attendance ahead from day to day.
Anyhow, she occupied, in one way or another, practically the whole of his
time; and the dumb little blue-eyed princess knocked at his door in vain.
Only in those hours when sheer fatigue had sent him to bed had she any
opportunity of visiting him. Sometimes she made white nights for him by
haunting those hours, refusing to go away; sometimes, by not coming at
all, she filled him with terror lest she had gone for good--would not
come back even when he was ready for her. When that panic was upon him he
hated Paula with a devouring hatred.
Of the human original of his blue-eyed princess, he saw during those
weeks, nothing. On that first Sunday when he lunched at the house he
heard them speak of a member of the family, a daughter of John Wollaston,
named Mary, who had been living in New York and had recently returned but
was not lunching at home that day. He got the idea then that she might be
the girl who had so mysteriously come in and sat beside him while Paula
sang; and without any evidence whatever to support this surmise, it
became a settled conviction. But an odd shrinking, almost superstitious,
as he had confessed to Jennie, from doing anything that might break the
spell kept him from asking any questions.
During the first week of his almost daily visits to the house, he got
repeated intimations of her, a glimpse once through an open door on the
third floor into a room that struck him as being, probably, hers. The
impression, once more, when he was coming down from the music room that
this was the door which he had just heard softly shut as if some one, the
princess herself, of course, who had stood listening to the music for a
while, had withdrawn there when she heard his step on the stairs. Once on
the settee in the hall he saw a riding crop and a small beaver hat that
he felt a curious certainty belonged to her and once out of a confusion
of young voices in the drawing-room, and a dance tune going on the
Victrola, he heard some one call out her name, hers he was sure though he
didn't hear her answer. Perhaps she had answered without speaking. The
dumb princess again.
Then suddenly even these faint hints of her presence ceased, and he
remarked their absence with a troubled wonder until one day Paula
volunteered the statement that Mary had gone away on a visit for a month
or two, out to Wyoming, where a great friend of hers, Olive Corbett, and
her husband had a ranch.
By asking a few intelligent questions, he could have found out a lot
more about her from Paula for she was disposed to talk freely enough
about the family life she was so oddly enclosed in, and their perpetual
quarrels about the opera never carried over into their breathing spells.
In the long hours of their almost daily sessions the occasional rests
made up quite a total and March accumulated a lot of information about
Indeed it was not quite as idle as that sounds. Paula talked to him
thirstily, gave him somehow the impression that she had had no one for a
good many years with whom she could converse without reservation in her
She came, he learned, of a Virginia family which had migrated during her
early childhood to California. It was obvious that they were well-bred,
but equally so that they were not very competent. The victims, he judged,
of a lot of played-out southern ideas and traditions. They were still
living and March allowed himself to guess that they were one of the minor
reasons why Doctor John had to earn a lot of money.
Paula with her splendid physique and gorgeous voice must have looked to
them like the family hope. They had managed at considerable sacrifice to
send her abroad, but evidently without any idea of the time and the money
it takes to erect even the most promising material into a genuine
success. After a year or two, she had been abandoned to make her way as
best she could.
Even now that they were safely consigned to the past, Paula could not
talk about the shifts and hardships of that time with any relish. The
discouragements must have sunk in pretty deep. She hinted--it was not
the sort of topic she could discourse candidly about--that the
blackest of those discouragements had come from the amorous advances
of men who had it in their power to open opportunities to her but
wanted a _quid pro quo_.
He asked her in that connection whether during those hard times she had
never felt inclined to fall in love on her own account.
"I never cared a snap of my fingers for any man," she said with obvious
sincerity, "until I saw John."
This slowness of her erotic development surprised him rather until he
evoked the explanation that her energies had been concentrated upon her
musical ambition. Music, since she was a real musician, had been a
genuine emotional outlet for her.
March speculated rather actively upon the relation between Paula and her
husband. There was no dark room in the composer's mind. He was the other
pole from Aunt Lucile. All human problems set his mind at work. He was
not widely read in the literature of psychology and he had a rough
working theory which he regarded as his own, a dynamic theory. People got
started off in life with a certain amount of energy. It varied immensely
between individuals, of course, but one couldn't alter the total of his
own. Upon that store you ran until you were spent. What channels this
stream of energy cut for itself was partly a matter of luck, partly one
of self-determination. The important fact was that there was only so much
and that what went down one way did not also go down another. It might be
a hundred rivulets or one river, it couldn't be both. This philosophy was
largely responsible for the ordering of his own life, for his doing
without possessions, for the most part without friends, for his keeping
the brake set so tightly upon his sex impulses.
John must have come into Paula's life, he reflected, at a time when the
musical outlet to her energies had been dammed up. Her main stream, like
that of the Mississippi, had cut a new channel for itself. Had there
been, he wondered, some similar obstruction in the main channel of John
Wollaston's emotional life? Anyhow, there was no doubt that for the five
years since this cataclysm had occurred, the course of true love had run
smooth and deep. But suppose now that, through LaChaise's intervention,
Paula's musical career was again opened to her, would the current turn
that way? Would John be left stranded? Had Paula herself any misgivings
to this effect?
That she was deeply troubled about her present relation with John and in
general about John himself, would have been plain to a less penetrating
eye than Anthony's. There was no open quarrel between them. Wollaston
dropped into the music room sometimes, late in the afternoon, to ask how
the opera was getting along. His manner to March on these occasions was
one of, perhaps, slightly overwrought politeness, but the intention of it
did not seem hostile. Toward Paula he presented the image of humorous,
affectionate concern, the standard behavior of the perfect husband.
It was Paula, on these occasions, who gave the show away, betraying by a
self-conscious eagerness to make him welcome, the fact that he was not.
She made the mistake of telling him he looked tired and worried, facts
too glaringly true to be bandied about in the presence of a stranger. He
looked to March as if he were approaching the elastic limit of complete
exhaustion. That it looked pretty much like that to Paula herself was
made evident from the way she once spoke about him, her eyes full of
tears, after he had left the room.
"He's working so insanely hard," she said. "Nights as well as days. I
don't believe he's had five hours' consecutive sleep this week."
When March wanted to know why he did it, she hesitated, but gave him, at
last, a candid answer. No one else would have answered it at all.
"I don't think it can be because he feels he has to," she said. "To earn
the money, I mean. Of course, he's been buying a big farm, half of it,
for Rush. But he said the other day that if I needed any extra money for
this"--she nodded toward the score on the piano--"I was to let him know.
Of course, he isn't happy about it and I suppose it makes him take
Naturally enough, March agreed with her here. John Wollaston was clearly
a member of the gold coast class. It wasn't thinkable that his financial
difficulties could be real. The unreality of them was, of course, the
measure of the genuineness of his fear of losing Paula,--of seeing the
main current of her life shift once more to its old channel. Did Paula
see that, March wondered? What was it she foresaw?
He got a partial answer one day in the course of one of their quarrels
about the opera. He had unguardedly given expression to his growing
despondency about it.
"This thing can't go," he had said. "It's getting more lifeless from week
to week. We're draining all the blood out of it and this stuff we're
putting in is sawdust."
She whipped round upon him in a sudden tempest. "It's got to go," she
said. "It's got to be made to go. If what you're putting into it is
sawdust, take it out. Put some heart into it."
He had been staring gloomily at the score. Now he turned away from it.
"That's what I don't seem able to do," he said.
She came up and took him by the shoulders so violently that it might
almost be said she shook him. "You can't let go like that. It's too late.
Everything I've got in the world is mixed up in it." She must have read
his unspoken thought there for she went on, "Oh, I suppose you'd say I'd
still have John if I did fail. Well, I wouldn't. He's mixed up in it,
too. He'd never forgive me if I failed. It's the fear I'll fail and make
myself look cheap and ridiculous that makes him hate it so. Well, I'm not
going to. Make up your mind to that!"
Later, when he was leaving, under a promise to improve some of the
passages they had been arguing about, she reverted to this aspect of the
matter and added something. "John can see what a failure would mean. But
what the other thing--the big real success--would mean to both of us, he
hasn't the faintest idea of. He won't till I get it."
"He's a famous person, himself, of course," March observed, not without a
gleam of mischief.
She echoed the word quite blankly, and he went on to amplify.
"That European Medical Commission that was out here a few weeks ago
attended some of his clinics in a body. I don't suppose there's a
first-class hospital anywhere in this country or in Europe where his name
isn't known. That operation he did on Sarah turned out to be a classic,
you know. He used a new technique in it which has become standard since."
But it seemed to him that she still looked incredulous when he went away,
incapable of really digesting that idea at all. No, he wouldn't have bet
much on the chance that any great success of hers could reunite them. The
love life that they had been enjoying this last five years hadn't thrown
out any radicles to bind them together--children for instance.
March wondered why there had been no children. He was not inclined to
accept the obvious explanation that she hadn't wanted any. She had spoken
once of her childlessness in a tone that didn't quite square with that
explanation. Nor had she said it quite as she would, had she felt that
her husband shared equally in her disappointment. It was all very
intangible, of course, just the way she inflected the sentence, "You see,
I haven't any children." Was it John that didn't want them? Well, he had
two of his own, of course. Had he shrunk from having this new passion of
his domesticated? And then he was a gynecologist. Was he, perhaps, afraid
for her? That explanation had a sort of plausibility about it for Anthony
March. If that were true, his caution had only brought him face to face
with a greater risk. March felt sorry for John Wollaston.
But it quite truly never occurred to him to hold himself in the smallest
degree responsible for the husband's troubles. To a man with a better
developed possessive sense, it might have occurred that he was poaching
in another's preserves. When a husband made it plain that he chose to
keep a particularly rare and valuable possession such as a wife like
Paula must be considered, in the tower of brass LaChaise had talked
about, it became the duty of every other well-disposed male to take pains
to leave no keys, rope ladders or files lying about by which she might
effect her escape. But a consideration of this sort would not even have
been intelligible to March, let alone troublesome.
Mary could not have described the thing there was about old Nat's manner
of going by her door that led her to halt him and inquire what he was up
to. One sees, sometimes, one of his children gliding very innocently
along toward the nearest way out with an effect of held breath that
prompts investigation. In this sixty-year old child, upon whom the terror
of John Wollaston's desperate illness lay more visibly than on any other
member of the household, this look of gusto was especially striking.
Mary's question was prompted by no more serious an impulse than to share
with him a momentary escape from the all-enveloping misery.
But she found old Nat unwilling to share his source of satisfaction with
her. He protested, indeed, with an air of deeply aggrieved innocence,
that nothing of the sort existed. A man was waiting now in the lower hall
who had come to make the customary inquiries. Nat had conveyed them to
Paula and was returning with her answer. This was so flagrantly
disingenuous that Mary smiled.
"Who is the man?" she asked.
The old servant shuffled his feet. "It's that good-for-nothing piano
tuner, Miss Mary," he told her reluctantly. "I reckon you don't know much
about him. He's been coming around a lot since you've been away. He's
been sticking to Miss Paula like a leech, right up to the day your father
got sick. Then he didn't come any more and I thought we were done with
him. But he came back to-day and asked me if Miss Paula was up in the
music room. He'd have gone right straight up to that room where Doctor
John is fighting for his life if I hadn't stopped him."
"Did you tell him father was ill?" she asked, and was astonished at the
flare of passion this evoked from him.
"It ain't no business of his, Miss Mary," he said grimly. "Nothing about
this family is any business of his." Then as if anxious to prevent the
significance of that from reaching her, he hurried on. "He was so sure
Miss Paula wanted to see him, I told him if he'd wait, I'd inform her
that he was here. I've done told her and she said he was to go away. She
couldn't be bothered with him. And then she said to me with tears in her
eyes, 'I wish I'd never seen him, Nat.' Those were her words, Miss Mary.
'I wish my eyes had never beheld him!' That's what she said to me not a
minute ago. I'm going down to fix him so she'll never see him again."
"You needn't go down," Mary said decisively. "I'll see him myself."
She had got home that morning summoned by a telegram, one of those
carefully composed encouraging telegrams that are a simple distillate of
despair. During the three days it had taken to accomplish her journey
from the ranch, she had gradually relinquished all hope of finding her
father alive. Rush, who met the train, had reassured her. It was a bad
case of double pneumonia. They were expecting the crisis within
twenty-four hours. The doctors gave him an even chance, but the boy was
more confident. "They don't know dad," he said. "He isn't going to die."
On the way back to the house he had outlined the facts for her. His
father had driven out to the farm in his open roadster a week ago Sunday
to see how he and Graham were getting on--driven out alone, though he had
spoken the night before, over the telephone, of bringing Paula with him.
For some reason that hadn't come off. Dad had seemed well enough, then,
though rather tired and dispirited. The day had begun as if it meant to
be fine, for a change, but it had turned off cold again and begun to rain
while they were walking over the place. His father, he was afraid, had
got pretty wet. When they got back to the farm-house they found a
telephone message urgently summoning him to town, and he had driven away,
in the open car, without changing.
Rush had meant to telephone but had neglected this--they were terribly
busy, of course, trying to get things done without any labor to do them
with. He had come home Wednesday, on a promise to Graham's kid sister
that he would attend a school dance of hers. He had dressed at home but
not dined there and had seen nothing of his father until very late, about
two o'clock in the morning, when he noticed a light in his room as he
passed on the way to his own.
"I don't know why I stopped," he said. "He was talking and his voice
didn't sound natural, not as if he was telephoning nor talking to any
one in the room, either. He was trying to telephone--to the hospital to
send an ambulance for him. He hadn't any breath at all, even then, and
the thermometer he'd been taking his temperature with read a hundred
"I know," Rush agreed. "It's pretty rum. He stuck to it. Wanted to be got
straight out of the house without rousing anybody. He was a little bit
delirious, of course. I agreed to it to pacify him, but I telephoned
straight to Doctor Darby and he told me not to do anything till he got
around. It wasn't more than ten minutes before he came. Paula had roused
by that time, and she persuaded Darby against the hospital. She suggested
the music room herself and as soon as he saw it he said it was just the
place. They've got a regular hospital rigged up for him there and two men
nurses. But the main person on the job is Paula herself. The two men keep
watch and watch, but she's there practically all the time. They say she
hasn't slept in more than half-hour snatches since that first night. She
won't let any of us come near him--and Darby backs her up. The doctors
are all crazy about her. Say it'll be her doing if dad pulls through.
Well--she'd better make it!"
There wasn't time to explore the meaning of that last remark for they
were then pulling up at the door. She laid it aside for future reference,
however. She was so fortunate as to meet Doctor Darby on the stairs and
so to get at once the latest and most authoritative report.
He brightened at the sight of her but she thought he didn't look very
hopeful. He said though, that he believed her father was going to get
well. "Medically, he hasn't more than an even chance. He hasn't much
fight in him somehow. But that stepmother of yours means to pull him
through. She doesn't mean to be beaten and I don't believe she will be.
I've never seen the equal of her. It shows they're born, not made. She's
never had, your aunt assures me, any nursing experience whatever."
Mary thought she detected a twinkle in Darby's eye over this mention of
Aunt Lucile, but it was gone before she could make sure.
"You're to go up and see him for five minutes," he went on. "Paula's
keeping a look-out for you. He mustn't be allowed to talk, of course, but
she wants him to know you're back. She has an idea, and she's probably
right, that he is worrying about you."
"What is there that I can do?" she asked. "To help, I mean."
"Hope," he told her bluntly. "Pray if you can. Cheer up your aunt a bit,
if possible; she's in despair. Only don't try to take away any of her
occupations. That's about all."
"In other words, nothing," she commented.
"Well, none of us can do much more than that," he said, "excepting
It was not until she had spent that heart-tearing five minutes at her
father's bedside, while she talked cheerful little encouraging futilities
in a voice dry with the effort she had to make to keep it from breaking,
that she saw her aunt--and felt grateful for Doctor Darby's warning. Mary
had never thought of Lucile before as an old woman, but she seemed more
than that now,--broken and, literally, in despair--of her brother's life.
And beyond this there was a bitterness which Mary could not, at first,
"Paula, I hear, has allowed you to see him. For five minutes! Well, that
is more than she has allowed me. Or any of us. It was a chance for
showing off, I suppose, that was more than she could resist."
"I was a little afraid it might be that," Mary admitted. "Afraid of
finding her--carefully costumed for the part, you know. But she wasn't.
She didn't come into the room with me at all; just told me not to show I
was shocked by the way he looked and not to let him talk. And she seemed
glad I was back; not for me but because it might help him. It seems a
miracle that he's still alive, after almost a week of that, and I guess
it is she who has done it. They all say so."
"Men!" the old woman cried fiercely. "All men! The two nurses as well.
There's something about her that makes idiots of all of them. She knows
it. And she revels in it. It's the breath of life to her. She has played
fast and loose with your father's happiness for it. And now she's playing
with his life as well. And feeling, all the while, that it is a very
"Repentance for what?" Mary asked. "Rush said something like that. I
thought, before I went away, that father was getting reconciled to the
Ravinia idea. Do you think it was worrying about ..."
"No, I don't," Lucile interrupted shortly. "Your father was exposed,
soaking wet, to a cold north wind, while he was driving forty miles in an
open car. That's the reason he took pneumonia. And it's the only reason.
I don't know what Rush may have been saying to you, but I've known your
father ever since he was born, and I can tell you that Paula might have
gone on making a fool of herself to the end of time without his dying of
it. He was--fond of her, I will admit. But he had a life of his own that
she knows nothing about. He was too proud to tell her about it, and she
hadn't wit enough to see it for herself. That's the truth, and this
emotional sprawl she's indulging in now doesn't change it.--Meanwhile,
she is adding to her collection five new men!"
"I don't believe," said Mary quietly, "that there is one of them she
knows exists. Or wouldn't poison," she added with a smile, "to improve
father's chance of getting well."
This won a nod of grim assent. "There are plenty of them. She could
replace them easily enough. But her hunger for their worship is
insatiable. For a while your father's--infatuation satisfied her. She may
have tried to pull herself up to his level. I dare say she did. But even
at that time she could not abide Wallace Hood, though he was kindness
itself to her, simply because he kept his head. Unfortunately, this poor
young musician was not able to keep his."
It seemed to Mary, even when allowance was made for the bitterness of the
desperate old woman, who then went on for the better part of an hour with
her bill of particulars, that this must be true. Paula must have lost her
head, at any rate. What Mary herself had seen the beginning of, must
have gone on at an accelerated speed until it was beyond all bounds.
There had been few hours when March might not come to the house and none
to which he did not stay. There were whole days when Paula was hardly out
of his company. She took him about with her to people's houses. She
talked about him when she went alone. Those who had at first not known
what to think, at last had come to believe that there was only one thing
"I tried to suggest to her, quite early, before it had gone so far, that
she was in danger of being misunderstood. It only made her furious. And
John was hardly less so when I mentioned to him that I had spoken to her.
He would see nothing; kept a face of granite through it all."
"Aunt Lucile," Mary asked, after a little silence, "do you think she has
really been--unfaithful to father?"
Miss Wollaston hesitated. "Should you consider the conduct I have
described, to be an example of fidelity?"
"I mean, in the divorce court sense," Mary persisted.
"That," her aunt said, more nearly in her old manner than anything that
Mary had yet seen--"that is a matter upon which I have no opinion."
It was a possibility that Mary had contemplated as early as that first
night of all, when Paula, having sung his song, had come herself to
find him in Annie's old bedroom where she had him hidden and with a
broken laugh had pulled him up in her arms and kissed him, unaware that
she was not alone with him. One kiss, as an isolated phenomenon, didn't
mean much, Mary allowed, but when a man and a woman who were going to
be left alone together a lot, started off that way, they were likely
to--get somewhere. And where the man was the composer of that love song
and the woman the singer of it, it was almost a foregone conclusion
that they would.
But this was not the conclusion that she had come to when she stopped
old Nat on his way down-stairs to turn March out of the house. The
evidence, Rush's and Aunt Lucile's, might seem to point that way but it
didn't, somehow, make a convincing picture. I think, though, that in any
case, she would have gone down to see him.
He had found himself a seat on a black oak settee in the hall around the
corner of the stairs and his attitude, when she came upon him, was very
like what it had been the other time, bent forward a little, his hands
between his knees, as if he were braced for something.
"Mrs. Wollaston won't be able to see you to-day," she said. He sprang to
his feet and she added instantly, "I'm her stepdaughter, Mary Wollaston.
Won't you come in?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned and led the
way into the drawing-room.
So far it had been rehearsed, on her way down-stairs, even to the chair
in the bow window which she indicated, having seated herself, for him to
sit down in. She had up to that point an extraordinarily buoyant sense of
self-possession. This left her for one panicky instant when she felt him
looking at her a little incredulously as if, once more, he wondered
whether she were really there.
"I think, perhaps, you haven't heard of father's illness," she began--not
just as she had expected to. "Or did you come to ask about him?"
"No," he said. "I hadn't heard. Is it--yes, of course it must
be--serious. I'm sorry."
She was struck by the instantaneous change in his manner. From being,
part of him, anyhow, a little remote--wool-gathering would have been Aunt
Lucile's term--he was, vividly, here. It wasn't possible to doubt the
reality of his concern. As a consequence, when she began informing him of
the state of things she found herself pulled away, more and more, from
the impersonal phraseology of a medical bulletin. She told how the attack
had come on; how they had put up a bed for him in the music room, where
there was the most air, and begun what it was evident from the first
would be a life-and-death struggle; she quoted what Rush had told her
when he met the train. "I agree with Rush," she concluded. "They let me
see him, for a few minutes, this morning, just so he'd know that I had
come back. Yet it isn't possible not to believe that he will get well."
When she had squeezed away the tears that had dimmed her eyes, she saw
that his own were bright with them. "He's more than just a great man," he
said gravely. Then, after a moment's silence, "If there's anything I can
do... It would be a great privilege to be of service to him. As errand
boy, any sort of helper. I had some hospital experience at Bordeaux."
It was, on the face of it, just such an offer as any kindly disposed
inquirer would have made. Such as Wallace Hood, for example, had, in
fact, made, only rather more eloquently less than an hour ago. But Mary's
impulse was not to answer as she had answered Wallace with a mere polite
acknowledgment of helpless good intentions. In fact, she could find, for
the moment, no words in which to answer him at all.
He said then, "I mustn't keep you."
Even in response to that she made no movement of release. "There's
nothing, even for me to do," she said, and felt from the look this drew
from him that he must, incredibly, have caught from her some inkling of
what her admission really meant.
He did not repeat his move to go, nor speak, and there was silence
between them for, perhaps, the better part of a minute. It was
terminated, startlingly, for her, by her brother's appearance in the
doorway. He had on his raincoat and carried his hat and an umbrella in
"Mary, I'm just going out" ... he began, then broke off short, stared,
and came on into the room. March rose, but Mary, after one glance at
Rush's face, sat back a little more deeply in her seat. Rush ignored her
"My sister has been away during the last few weeks," he said to March. It
had, oddly, the effect of a set speech. "If she had not been, I'm sure
she would have told you, as I do now ..." He stumbled there, evidently
from the sudden blighting sense that he was talking like an actor--or an
ass. "This isn't the time for you to come here," he went on. "This house
isn't the place for you to come. When my father's well enough to take
matters into his own hands again, he'll do as he sees fit. For the
present you will have to consider that I'm acting for him."
Mary's eyes during the whole of that speech never wavered from March's
face. There was nothing in it at all at first but clear astonishment, but
presently there came a look of troubled concern that gave her an impulse
to smile. Evidently it disconcerted her brother heavily for at the end of
an appalling silence, not long enough however, to allow March to get his
wits together for a reply, Rush turned about abruptly and strode from the
room. A moment later they heard the house door close behind him.
The two in the drawing-room were left looking at each other. Then,
"Please sit down again," she said.
The effect of Rush's interruption was rather that of a thunderclap,
hardly more. Recalling it, Mary remembered having looked again into
March's face as the street door banged shut to see whether he was
laughing. She herself was sharply aware of the comic effect of her
brother's kicking himself out of the house instead of his intended
victim, but she could not easily have forgiven a sign of such awareness
He had betrayed none, had tried, she thought--his amazement and concern
had rendered him pretty near inarticulate--to tell her what the look in
his face had already made evident even to Rush; his innocence not only of
any amorous intent toward Paula but even of the possibility that any one
could have interpreted the relation between them in that way. He might
have managed some such repudiation as that had she not cut across his
effort with an apology for her brother.
It had been a terrible week for them all, she said. Especially for Rush
and for his Aunt Lucile, who had been here from the beginning. Even the
few hours since her own return this morning had been enough to teach her
how nearly unendurable that sort of helplessness was.
It must have been in this connection that he told her what had not got
round to her before, the case of his sister Sarah whom they had watched
as one condemned to death until John Wollaston came and saved her. "He
simply wouldn't be denied," March said. "He was all alone; even his
colleagues didn't agree with him. And my father, having decided that she
was going to die and that this must, therefore, be the will of God,
didn't think it ought to be tampered with.
"I remember your father said to him, 'Man, the will of God this morning
is waiting to express itself in the skill of my hands,' and it didn't
sound like blasphemy either. He carried father off in his apron, just as
he was, to the hospital and I went along. I scraped an acquaintance
afterward with one of the students who had been there in the theatre
watching him operate and got him to tell me about it. They felt it was a
historic occasion even at the time; cheered him at the end of it. And
that sort of virtuosity does seem worthier of cheers than any scraping of
horsehair over cat-gut could ever come to. I wonder how many lives there
are to-day that owe themselves altogether to him just as my sister
does.--How many children who never could have been born at all except for
his skill and courage. Because, of course, courage is half of it."
Upon Mary the effect of this new portrait of her father was electrifying;
eventually was more than that--revolutionary. These few words of March's
served, I think, in the troubled, turbid emotional relation she had got
into with her father, as a clarifying precipitant.
But that process was slower; the immediate effect attached to March
himself. The present wonder was that it should have been he, a stranger,
equipped with only the meagerest chances for observation, who, turning
his straying search-light beam upon the dearest person to her in the
world, should thus have illuminated him anew. Even after he had gone it
was the man rather than the things he had said that she thought about.
Amazingly, he had guessed--she was sure she had given him no hint--at the
part Paula was playing in their domestic drama. It had come pat upon what
he had told her of the lives her father had plucked from the hand of
death, the ironic, "he saved others, himself he can not save," hanging
unspoken in their thoughts.
"Paula will be fighting for his life," he said. "Magnificently. That must
be one of your hopes."
She had confirmed this with details. She got the notion, perhaps from
nothing more than his rather thoughtful smile, that he comprehended the
whole thing, even down to Aunt Lucile. Though wasn't there a phrase of
his,--"these uninhibited people, when it comes to getting things _done_
..." that slanted that way? Did that mean that he was one of the other
sort? Wasn't your ability to recognize the absence of a quality or a
disability in any one else, proof enough that you had it yourself? It
would never, certainly, occur to Paula to think of any one as
But the opposed adjective didn't fit him. She couldn't see him at all as
a person tangled, helpless, in webs of his own spinning;--neither the man
who had written that love song nor the man who had sat down in his chair
again after Rush had slammed the door.
He wasn't even shy but he was, except for that moment when a vivid
concern over John Wollaston's illness brought him back, oddly remote,
detached. He might have been a Martian, when in response to her leading
he discussed Paula with her; how good a musician she was; how splendidly
equipped physically and temperamentally for an operatic career. "She has
abandoned all that now, I suppose," he said. "Everything that goes with
it. She would wish, if she ever gave us a thought, that LaChaise and I
had never been born."
Mary would have tried to deny this but that the quality and tone of his
voice told her that he really knew it and that, miraculously, he didn't
care. She had exclaimed with a sincerity struck out of her by amazement,
"I don't see how you know that."
"Paula's a conqueror," he had answered simply, "a--compeller. It's her
instinct to compel. That's what makes her the artist she is. Without her
voice she might have been a tamer of wild beasts. And, of course, a great
audience that has paid extravagantly for its pleasure is a wild beast,
that will purr if she compels it, snarl at her if she doesn't manage to.
She's been hissed, howled at. And that's the possibility that makes
cheers intoxicating. Left too long without something to conquer, she
feels in a vacuum, smothered. Well, she's got something now; the greatest
thing in the world to her,--her husband's life. She's flung off the other
thing like a cloak."
Without, at the moment, any sense of its being an extraordinary question,
Mary asked, "Are you glad? That she has forgotten you, I mean."
She was not able, thinking it over afterward, to recall anything that
could have served as a cue for so far-fetched a supposition as that. It
could have sprung from nothing more palpable than the contrast suggested
between Paula, the compeller, the _dompteuse_, and the man who had just
been so describing her. He was so very thin; he was, if one looked
closely, rather shabby, and beyond that, it had struck her that a haggard
air there was about him was the product of an advanced stage of
fatigue,--or hunger. But that of course, was absurd. Anyhow, not even the
sound of her question startled her.
Nor did it him. There was something apologetic about his smile. "It _is_
a reprieve," he admitted. "I left her a week ago," he went on to
explain,--"it must have been the day Doctor Wollaston fell ill--on a
promise not to come back until I had got this opera of mine into the
shape she wants. I came back to-day to tell her that it can't be
done--not by me. I have tried my utmost and it isn't enough. I haven't
improved it even from her point of view let alone from mine. She isn't an
easy person to come to with a confession of failure."
"She's spoiling it," Mary said. "Why do you let her?"
But March dissented from that. "If we agree that the thing's an
opera--and of course that's what it is if it's anything--then what she
wants it made over into is better than what I wrote. She's trying to put
the Puccini throb into it. She's trying to make better drama out of it.
LaChaise agrees with her. He said at the beginning that I relied too much
on the orchestra and didn't give the singers enough to do. And, of
course, it's easy to see that what a woman like Paula said or did would
be more important to an audience than anything that an oboe could
possibly say. When I'm with her, she--galvanizes me into a sort of belief
that I can accomplish the thing she wants, but when I go off alone and
try to do it...." He blinked and shook his head. "It has been a
first-class nightmare, for a fact, this last week."
But Mary demanded again. "Why do you let her?"
"I made a good resolution a while ago," he said. "It was--it was the
night she sang those Whitman songs. You see I've never been tied to
anything; harnessed, you know. Somehow, I've managed to do without. But
I've had to do without hearing, except in my own head, any of the music
I've written. There was an old tin trunk full of it, on paper, that
looked as if it was never going to be anywhere else. Well, I came to a
sort of conviction after I went away from here that night, that those two
facts were cause and effect; that unless I submitted to be harnessed I
never would hear any of it. And it seemed that night that I couldn't
manage to do without hearing it. Keats was wrong about that, you
know,--about unheard melodies being sweeter. They can come to be clear
torment. So I decided I'd begin going in harness. I suppose it was rather
naive of me to think that I could, all at once, make a change like that.
Anyhow, I found I couldn't go on with this. I brought it around
to-day,--it's out there in the hall--to turn it over to Paula to do with
as she liked. That's why it was so--incredible, when you came down the
He sprang up then to go, so abruptly that he gave her the impression of
having abandoned in the middle, the sentence he was speaking. This time,
however, rising instantly, she released him and in a moment he was gone.
There had been a word from him about her father, the expression of
"confident hopes" for his recovery, and on her part some attempt, not
successfully brought off she feared, to assure him of his welcome when he
came again. She didn't shake hands with him and decided afterward that it
must have been he who had avoided it.
She was glad to have him go so quickly. She wanted him to go so that she
could think about him. It was with a rather buoyant movement that she
crossed the room to the piano bench and very lightly with her finger-tips
began stroking the keys, the cool smooth keys with their orderly
arrangement of blacks and whites, from which it was possible to weave
such infinitely various patterns, such mysterious tissue.
A smile touched her lips over the memory of the picture her fancy had
painted the night Paula sang his songs, the sentimental notion of Paula's
inspiring him with an occasional facile caress to the writing of other
love songs. She might have been a boarding-school girl to have thought of
that. She smiled, too, though a little more tenderly, over his own
attempt--naive he had called it--to go in harness, like a park hack,
submissive to Paula's rein and spur. Pegasus at the plow again. She
smiled in clear self-derision over her contemplated project of saving
him from Paula. He didn't need saving from anybody. He was one of those
spirits that couldn't be tied. Not even his own best effort of submission
could avail to keep the harness on his back.
It was most curious how comfortable she had been with him. During the
miserable month she had spent at home before she went to Wyoming with the
Corbetts, she had dreaded a second encounter with March and had
consciously avoided one. To meet and be introduced as the strangers they
were supposed by the rest of the family to be, to elaborate the pretense
that this was what they were--they who had shared those flaming moments
while Paula sang!--would be ridiculous and disgusting. But anything else,
any attempt to go on from where they had left off was unthinkable. In the
privacy of her imagination she had worked the thing out in half a dozen
ways, all equally distressing.
She had not made good her resolution to quit thinking about him. She was
not able and did not even attempt to dismiss her adventure with him as a
mere regrettable folly to be forgotten as soon as possible. It had often
come back to her during sleepless hours of the long nights and had always
been made welcome. She didn't wish it defaced as she had felt it
necessarily must be by the painful anti-climax of a second meeting.
The impulse upon which she had taken him out of old Nat's hands was
perhaps a little surprising now she looked back on it, but it had not
astonished her at the time. Of course, there, there was something
concretely to be done, an injustice to be averted from a possibly
innocent head. She doubted though if it had been pure altruism.
Whatever its nature, the result of it had been altogether happy. She
_was_ glad she had come down to see him. There need be no misgiving now
about the quality of their future encounters, were there to be any such.
They were on solid ground with each other.
How had that been brought about? How had they managed to talk to each
other for anyway fifteen or twenty minutes without either a reference to
their adventure or a palpable avoidance of it? It wasn't her doing. From
the moment when she got to the end of the lines she had rehearsed coming
down the stairs, the lead had been in his hands. Indeed, to the latter
part of the talk, what she had contributed was no more than a question or
two so flagrantly personal that they reminded her in review of some of
her childish indiscretions with Wallace Hood. How had he managed it?
He hadn't been tactful. She acquitted him altogether of that. She
couldn't have endured tact this afternoon from anybody. Of course, the
mere expressiveness of his face helped a lot. The look he had turned on
Rush for example, that had stopped that nerve-racked boy in full career.
Or the look he gave her when he first learned of her father's illness.
That sudden coming back from whatever his own preoccupation might have
been to a vivid concern for her father.
Well, there, at last, it was. That was his quality. A genius for more
than forgetting himself, for stepping clean out of himself into some one
else's shoes. Wasn't that just a long way of saying imagination? He had
illuminated her father for her and in so doing had given her a ray of
real comfort. He had interpreted Paula--in terms how different from those
employed by Aunt Lucile! He had comprehended Rush without one momentary
flaw of resentment. Last of all, he had quite simply and without one
vitiating trace of self-pity, explained himself, luminously, so that it
was as if she had known him all her life.
One thing, to be sure, she didn't in the least understand--the very
last thing he had said. "That's why it was so incredible when you came
down the stairs instead." That had been to her, a complete non sequitur,
an enigma. But she was content to leave it at that.
Such a man, of course, could never--belong to anybody. He was not
collectable. There would always be about him, for everybody, some last
enigma, some room to which no one would be given the key. But there was a
virtue even in the fringe of him, the hem of his garment.
Was she getting sentimental? No, she was not. Indeed, precisely what his
little visit had done for her was to effect her release from a tangle of
taut-drawn sentimentalities. She hadn't felt as free as this, as
comfortable with herself, since she came home with Rush from New York.
She had no assurance that he'd come to the house again of his own accord
or that Paula would send for him. But she was in no mood to distress
herself just now, even with that possibility.
She crossed the room and got herself a cigarette, and with it alight she
returned to her contemplation of the piano keyboard. She didn't move nor
speak when she heard Rush come in but she kept an eye on the drawing-room
door and when presently he entered, she greeted him with a smile of
good-humored mockery. He had something that looked like a battered school
atlas in his hand.
"What do you suppose this is?" he asked. "It was lying on the bench in
She held out a hand for it and together they opened it on the lid of the
piano and investigated.
"It's the manuscript of his opera," she said. "He brought it around to
leave with Paula. To tell her he had done with it. He's been trying to
spoil it for her but he can't."
"I suppose I made an infernal fool of myself," he remarked, after a
She blew, for answer, an impudent smoke ring up into his face.
He continued grumpily to cover his relief that she had not been more
painfully explicit,--"I suppose I shall have to make up some sort of
damned apology to him."
"I don't know," she said. "That's as you like. I don't believe he'd
insist upon it. He understood well enough."
He looked at her intently. "Has there been any better news from father
since I went out?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Except that there's been none. Every hour now that
we aren't sent for counts. What made you think there might have been?"
He said he didn't know. She looked a little more cheerful somehow,
less--tragic. Evidently her visit to the Corbetts had done her good.
His eye fell once more on the manuscript. "Did he go off and forget
that?" he asked. "Or did he mean to leave it for Paula? And what shall we
do with it,--hand it over to her or send it back?"
Thoughtfully Mary straightened the sheets and closed the cover. "I'll
take care of it for him," she said.
Pneumonia, for all it is characterized by what is called a crisis, has no
single stride to recovery, no critical moment when one who has been in
peril passes to safety. Steinmetz and Darby were determined that Mary and
all the household should understand this fully. She had waylaid them in
the hall as they were leaving the house together--this was seventy-two
hours or so after Anthony March's call--and demanded the good news she
was sure they had for her. There was a look about them and a tone in
their voices that were perfectly new.
They would not be persuaded to say that her father was out of danger.
There was very little left of him. His heart had been over-strained and
this abnormal effect was now, in due course, transferred to the kidneys.
All sorts of deadly sequellae were lying in ambush.
But the more discouraging they were, the more she beamed upon them. She
walked along with them to the door, slipping her arm inside Doctor
Darby's as she did so. "If you only knew," she said, "what a wonderful
thing it is to have the doctors stop being encouraging and try to
frighten you, instead. Because that means you really do think he's
"The balance of probability has swung to that side," Steinmetz admitted
in his rather affected staccato. "At all events he's out of my beat." His
beat was the respiratory tract and his treatment the last word in
vaccines and serums.
She held Darby back a little. "Must we go on feeling," she asked,
"that anything could happen any minute? Or--well, could Rush go back
to the farm? Graham Stannard has gone to New York, I think, they're
partners, you know, so he must be rather badly wanted. And this
waiting is hard for him."
Rush could go, of course, Darby assured her. "For that matter," he went
on with a quick glance at her, "why don't you go with him? Take your aunt
along, too. For a few days, at least. You couldn't do better."
She demurred to this on the ground that it didn't seem fair to Paula. If
there was a period of Arcadian retirement down on the books for anybody,
it was Paula who was entitled to it.
But Paula, as Darby pointed out, wouldn't take it in the first place,
and, surprisingly, didn't need it in the second. "She told me just now
that she'd slept eighteen hours out of the last twenty-four and was ready
for anything. She looked it, too."
He understood very well her irrepressible shrug of exasperation at that
and interrupted her attempt to explain it. "It's another breed of animal
altogether," he said. "And at that, I'd rather have had her job than
yours. You're looking first rate, anyhow. But your aunt, if she isn't to
break up badly, had better be carried off somewhere." He glanced around
toward Steinmetz who had withdrawn out of ear-shot. "There are some
toxins, you know," he added, "that are even beyond him and his
Mary had meant to broach this project at dinner but changed her mind and
waited until Aunt Lucile had withdrawn and she and Rush were left alone
over their coffee cups for a smoke.
"Poor Aunt Lucile! She has aged years in the last three weeks. And it
shows more, now the nightmare is over, than it did before."
"Is it over? Really?" he asked.
"Well, we don't need miracles any more for him. Just ordinary good care
and good luck. Yes, I'd say the nightmare was over."
"Leaving us free," he commented, "to go back to our own."
"You can go back to the farm, anyhow," she said. "I asked Doctor Darby,
especially, and he said so. He wants me to go along with you and take
Aunt Lucile. Just for a week or so. Is there any sort of place with a
roof over it where we could stay?"
He said, "I guess that could be managed." But his tone was so absent and
somber that she looked at him in sharp concern.
"You didn't mean that the farm was your nightmare, did you?" she asked.
"Has something gone terribly wrong out there?"
"Things have gone just the way I suppose anybody but a fool would have
known they would. Not worse than that, I guess."
He got up then and went over to the sideboard, coming back with a
decanter of old brandy and a pair of big English glasses. She declined
hers as unobtrusively as possible, just with a word and a faint shake of
the head. But it was enough to make him look at her.
"You didn't drink anything at dinner, either, did you?" he asked.
She flushed as she said, "I don't think I'm drinking, at all, just now."
"Being an example to anybody?" he asked suspiciously.
She smiled at that and patted his hand. "Oh, no, my dear. I've enough to
do to be an example to myself. I liked the way it was out at the
Corbetts'. They've gone bone-dry. And,--oh, please don't think that I'm a
prig--I am a little better without it--just now, anyway. Tell me what's
gone wrong at the farm."
"This is wonderful stuff," he said, cupping the fragile glass in his two
hands and inhaling the bouquet from the precious liquor in the bottom of
it. "It's good for nightmares, at any rate." After a sip or two, he
attempted to answer her question.
"Oh, I suppose we'll come out all right, eventually. Of course, we've got
to. But I wish Martin Whitney had done one thing or the other; either
shown a little real confidence and enthusiasm in the thing or else
stepped on it and refused to lend father the money."
"Lend?" Mary asked. "Did he have to borrow it?"
He dealt rather impatiently with that question. "You don't keep sixty or
eighty thousand dollars lying around loose in a checking account," he
said. "Of course, he had to borrow it. But he borrowed it of Whitney,
worse luck--and Whitney being an old friend, pulls a long face over it
whenever we find we need a little more than the original figures showed.
That's enough to give any one cold feet right there.
"Graham's father is rich, of course, but he's tighter than the bark on a
tree. He's gone his limit and he won't stand for anything more. He can't
see that a farm like that is nothing but a factory and that you can't run
it for any profit that's worth while without the very best possible
equipment. He wanted us to pike along with scrub stock and the old tools
and buildings that were on the place and pay for improvements out of our
profits. Of course, the answer to that was that there wouldn't be any
profits. A grade cow these days simply can't earn her keep with the price
of feed and labor what it is. We didn't figure the cost of tools and
modern buildings high enough--there _was_ such a devil of a lot of
necessary things that we didn't figure on at all--and the consequence
was that we didn't put a big enough mortgage on the place. Nowhere near
what it would stand. And now that we want to put a second one on, Mr.
Stannard howls like a wolf."
The mere sound of the word mortgage made Mary's heart sink. She looked so
woebegone that Rush went on hastily.
"Oh, that'll come out in the wash. It's nothing to worry about really,
because even on the basis of a bigger investment than we had any idea of
making when we went in, it figures a peach of a profit. There's no
getting away from that. That's not the thing about it that's driving
Graham and me to drink."
He stopped on that phrase, not liking the sound of it, and in doubt about
asking her not to take it literally. She saw all that as plainly as if
she had been looking through an open window into his mind. He took
another deliberate sip of the brandy, instead, and then went on.
"Why, it's the way things don't happen; the way we can't get
He did not see the sympathetic hand she stretched out to him; went back
to the big brandy glass instead, for another long luxurious inhalation
and a small sip or two. "It's partly our own fault, of course," he went
on, presently. "We've made some fool mistakes. But it isn't our mistakes
that are going to beat us, it's the damned bull-headed incompetence of
the so-called labor we've got to deal with."
He ruminated over that in silence for a minute or two. "They talk about
the inefficiency of the army," he exclaimed, "but I've been four years in
two armies and I'll say that if what we've found out at Hickory Hill is a
fair sample of civilian efficiency, I'll take the army way every time.
There are days when I feel as if I'd like to quit;--go out West and get
a job roping steers for Bob Corbett, even if he is bone-dry."
She thought if he played any longer with that brandy glass she must cry
out, but he drained it this time and pushed it away. With an effort of
will she relaxed her tight muscles.
"I suppose I must have looked to you like a hopeless slacker," he said,
"or you wouldn't have asked Darby to send me back to work. No,--I didn't
mean to put it that way. I look like one to myself, that's all, when I
stop to think. Only you don't know how it has felt, this last six weeks,
to go on getting tighter and tighter in your head until you feel as if
you were going to burst. I went out and got drunk, once,--just plain,
deliberately boiled--in order to let off steam. It did me good, too, for
the time being."
She didn't look shocked at that as he had expected her to--gave him only
a rather wry smile and a comprehending nod. "We're all alike; that's the
trouble with us," she said. "But you will take us out to Hickory Hill,
won't you? Aunt Lucile and I. I'll promise we won't be in the way nor
make you any more work."
She saw he was hesitating and added, "At that, perhaps, I may be some
good. I could cook anyhow and I suppose I could be taught to milk a cow
and run a Ford."
He laughed at that, then said a little uncomfortably that this wasn't
what he had been thinking about. "I suppose you're counting on Graham's
being in New York. He isn't. At least, he telegraphed me that he'd be
back at Hickory Hill to-morrow morning. I knew you'd been rather keeping
away from him and I thought perhaps..."
"No, that's all right." She said it casually enough, but it drew a keen
look of inquiry from him, nevertheless. "Oh, nothing," she went on. "I
mean I haven't made up with him. Of course, I never quarreled with him
as far as that went. Only it's what I meant when I said just now that we
were all alike, father and you and I. We all get so ridiculously--tight
about things. Well, I've managed to let off steam myself."
He patted her hand approvingly. "That trip to Wyoming did you a lot of
good," he observed.--"Or something did."
"They're wonderfully easy people to live with, Olive and Bob," she said.
"They're immensely in love with each other I suppose, but without somehow
being offensive about it. And they have such a lot of fun. Olive has a
piebald cayuse, that she's taught all the _haute ecole_ tricks. He does
the statuesque poses and all the high action things just as seriously as
a thoroughbred and he's so short and homely and in such deadly earnest
about it that you can hardly bear it. You laugh yourself into stitches
but you want to cry too. And Bob says he's going to train a mule the same
way. If he ever does that pair will be worth a million dollars to any
circus.--Well, we'll be doing things like that out at Hickory Hill some
day. Because there is such a thing as fun left in the world."
"We'll have some of it this week," he agreed, and in this rather
light-headed spirit they arranged details.
The only building at Hickory Hill that had been designed for human
habitation was the farm-house and it was at present fully occupied and
rather more by a camp cook and his assistant, the farm manager and half
a dozen hands. The partners themselves slept in a tent. There was also a
cook tent near the house where three meals a day were prepared for
everybody, including the carpenters, masons, concrete men and well
diggers who were working on the new buildings. They drove out in Fords
from two or three near-by towns in time for breakfast and didn't go home
till after supper. The wagon shed of the old horse barn served as a
There were some beds, though, two or three spare ones, Rush was sure,
that had never been used. Given a day's start on his guests, he would
promise some sort of building which, if they would refrain from inquiring
too closely into its past, should serve to house them.
"A wood-shed," she suggested helpfully, "or a nicely swept-out hennery.
Even a former cow stable, at a pinch. Only not a pig-pen."
"If our new hog-house were only finished, you could be absolutely
palatial in it. But I think I can do better than any of those. You leave
that to me.--Only, how about Aunt Lucile? She's--essential to the scheme,
I suppose. Can you deliver her?"
"She'll come if it's put to her right,--as a sporting proposition.
She really is a good sport you know, the dear old thing. You leave
her to me."
"Lord, I feel a lot better than I did when I sat down to dinner," he told
her when they parted for the night, and left her reflecting on the folly
of making mountains out of mole-hills.
LOW HANGS THE MOON
He broke his promise to be waiting for them Friday morning at the farm.
It was Graham who caught sight of their car, as it stopped in front of
the farm-house, and came plunging down the bank to greet them and explain
how unavoidable it had been that Rush should go to Elgin.
He was somewhat flushed and a little out of breath but he seemed, after
the first uncomfortable minute, collected enough. He mounted the
running-board and directed the chauffeur to drive on across the bridge
and fork to the right with the main road up to a small nondescript
building on the far side of it.
It was a part of the farm, he explained, indicating the wilderness off to
the left,--a part of what must once have been a big apple orchard.
Indeed, exploring it yesterday for the first time, he had found a
surprising number of old trees, which, choked as they were with
undergrowth, looked as if they were still bearing fruit. The building,
which they had never even entered until yesterday, had served as a
sorting and packing house for the crop, though the old part of
it--paradoxically the upper part--appeared to have been built as a
dwelling by some pioneer settler. A second story had been added
underneath by digging out the bank.
It stood well back from the road, a grass grown lane with a turning
circle leading to it. It had what had once been a loading platform, wagon
high, instead of a veranda. The lower story, a single room which they
peered into through a crack in a warped unhinged door, seemed unpromising
enough, a dark cobwebby place, cumbered with wooden chutes from the floor
above by which, Graham explained, they rolled the apples down into
barrels after they had been sorted up-stairs. A carpenter had been busy
most of the morning, he added, flooring over the traps from which these
chutes led down.
Mary, though, fairly cried out with delight, and even Miss Wollaston
beamed appreciation when, Graham, having led them up the bank and around
to the back of the building, ushered them in, at the ground level up
here, to the upper story of the building. There was a fireplace in the
north end of it with twin brick erections on either side which they
thought must have been used for drying apples. The opposite end,
partitioned off, still housed a cider mill and press, but they had
contrived, he said, a makeshift bedroom out of it.
Along the east side of the room were three pairs of casement windows
which commanded a view of the greater part of the farm; across the road,
across Hickory Creek, across the long reach of the lower pasture and the
seemingly limitless stretches of new plowed fields. The clump of farm
buildings, old and new, was in the middle of the picture. Over to the
left not quite a mile away, behind what looked like nothing more than a
fold in the earth (the creek again, Graham explained. It swung an arc of
two hundred degrees or so, about the main body of their tillable land)
rose the heavily wooded slopes of Hickory Hill.
"We were surprised at this place," he said, "when we opened it up
yesterday. It's the best view on the farm. It will be a fine place
to build a real country house, some day, if we ever make money
enough to do that."
"It is a real country house already," Mary told him briskly. "You two,
living in a tent with a lovely old place like this just waiting for you!
Wait until Aunt Lucile and I have had a day at it and you'll see."
He looked as if he believed her. Indeed, he looked unutterable things,
contemplating her, there in that mellow old room,--wrinkling her nose a
little and declaring that she could still smell apples. But all he said
was that he supposed the roof leaked, but it couldn't be very bad because
everything seemed quite decently dry and not at all musty. He added that
he must be getting back to work, but that an odd-job man, capable more or
less of anything, was at her disposal for as long as she wanted him.
She went with him to the door when he made his rather precipitate
departure and stood, after she had waved him a temporary farewell, gazing
up at the soft sun-bathed slope with its aisles of gnarled trees. She
smiled at the sight of a decrepit long-handled wooden pump. She took a
long breath of the smell of the month of May. Then she turned, with Aunt
Lucile, to such practical matters as bedding, brooms and tea-kettles.
There was more to do than a first look had led them to suppose, and
their schemes grew ambitious, besides, as they advanced with them, so
that, for all the Briarean prodigies of Bill, the odd-job man, they went
to bed dog tired at nine o'clock that night with their labors not more
than half complete. They slept--Mary did, anyhow, the deepest sleep she
had known in years.
She waked at an unearthly--a heavenly hour. The thin ether-cool air was
quivering with the dissonance of bird calls; the low sun had laid great
slow-moving oblongs of reddish gilt upon the brown walls of the big room.
(She had left her aunt in undivided possession of the extemporized
bed-chamber.) She rose and opened the door and looked out into the
orchard. But what her eye came to rest upon was the old wooden pump.
It was a triumph of faith over skepticism, that pump. Graham had
contemned it utterly, hardly allowing, even, that it was picturesque, but
Bill, the odd-job man had, with her encouragement, spent a patient hour
over it and in the teeth of scientific probability, lo, it had given
forth streams of water as clear as any that had ever miraculously been
smitten out of a rock. The partners had forbidden her to drink any of it
except boiled, until it had been analyzed.
She looked about. She had the world to herself. So she carried her rubber
tub, her sponge and a bath-towel out to the warped wooden platform and
bathed _en plein air_, water and sun together. She came in, deliciously
shuddering, lighted a fire, already laid, of shavings and sticks, put the
kettle on to boil and dressed. She felt--new born that morning.
This sensation made the undercurrent of a long fully filled day. She
almost never had time to look at it but she knew it was there. It
enabled her to take with equanimity the unlooked-for arrival (so far as
she and her aunt were concerned) of Graham's young torn-boy sister,
Sylvia. It made it possible for her to say, "Why, yes, of course! I'd
love to," when Graham, along in the afternoon asked her if she wouldn't
go for a walk over the farm with him. They spent more than an hour at
it, sitting, a part of the time, side by side atop the gate into the
upper pasture, yet not even then had the comfortable sense of pleasant
companionship with him taken fright. It was a security that resided, she
knew, wholly in herself.
He was holding himself, obviously, on a very tight rein, and it was quite
conceivable that before her visit ended, he would bolt. There was a
moment, indeed--when he came with Rush to supper at the apple house and
got his first look at the transformation she had wrought in it--when that
possibility must have been in the minds of every one who saw his face.
She had dramatized the result of her two days' labor innocent of any
intention to produce an effect like that. The partners when they came
dropping in from time to time had, learned nothing of her plans, seen
none of their accomplishments, so to-night the old-fashioned settle
which Bill had knocked together from lumber in the packing room and she
had stained, two of the sorting tables, fitted into the corners beside
the fireplace to make a dais, the conversion of another into a capital
dining table by the simple expedient of lengthening its legs, the rag
rug, discovered in the village, during a flying trip with Sylvia this
morning in her car and ravished from the church fair it had been
intended for, the sacks of sheeting Aunt Lucile had been sewing
industriously all day, covered with burlaps and stuffed with hay to
serve as cushions, the cheese-cloth tacked up in gathers over the
windows and hemmed with pins,--all this, revealed at once, had the
surprise of a conjurer's trick, or, if one were predisposed that way,
the entrancement of a miracle.
She was a little entranced, herself, partly with fatigue for she had put
in, one after the other, two unusually laborious days, but partly no
doubt with her own magic, with this almost convincing simulation of a
home which she and her assistants had produced. It didn't matter that she
had gone slack and silent, because Sylvia, who just before supper had
shown a disposition to dreamy elegiac melancholy, rebounded, as soon as
she was filled with food, to the other end of the scale altogether and
swept Rush after her into a boisterous romp, which none of Aunt Lucile's
remonstrant asides to her nephew was effectual to quell.
She was an amazing creature, this product of the latest generation to
begin arriving at the fringes of maturity, a reedy young thing, as tall
as Graham, inches taller than Rush. She had the profile of a young Greek
goddess and the grin of a gamin. She was equally at home in a
ballgown--though she was not yet out--or in a pair of khaki riding
breeches and an olive drab shirt. She was capable of assuming a manner
that was a genuine gratification to her great aunt or one that startled
her father's stable men. She read French novels more or less at random,
(unknown to her mother. She had a rather mischievous uncle who was
responsible for this development) and she was still deadly accurate with
a snowball. A bewildering compound of sophistications and innocence, a
modern young sphinx with a riddle of her own.
Mary watched her tussling and tumbling about with Rush, pondering the
riddle but making no great effort to find an answer to it. Was she child
or woman? To herself what was she? And what did Rush think about her?
They were evidently well established on some sort of terms. Rush, no
doubt, would tell you--disgustedly if you sought explanation--that Sylvia
was just a kid. That he was fond of her as one would be of any nice kid
and that her rough young embraces, her challenges and her pursuits, meant
precisely what those of an uproarious young--well, nephew, say,--would
mean. Only his eagerness to go on playing the game cast a doubt upon that
They went out abruptly after a while, just as it was getting dark, to
settle a bet as to which of them could walk the farthest along the top
rail of a certain old fence. Miss Wollaston saw them go with unconcealed
dismay, but it was hard to see how even a conscientious chaperon could
have prevented it so long as the child's elder brother would do nothing
to back her up. To Mary, half-way in her trance, it didn't seem much to
matter what the relation was or what came of it. It was a fine spring
night and they were a pair of beautifully untroubled young animals. Let
them play as they would.
Their departure, did, however, arouse Graham to the assumption of his
duties as host and he launched himself into a conversation with Miss
Wollaston; a fine example, Mary thought, of what really good breeding
means. Her aunt's questions about life in the navy were not the sort that
were easy to answer pleasantly and at large. They drew from him things he
must have been made to say a hundred times since his return and sometimes
they were so wide of the mark that it must have been hard not to stare or
laugh. He must have been wishing, too, with all his might down in the
disregarded depths of his heart, that the old lady would yield to the
boredom and fatigue that were slowly creeping over her. Soon! Before that
pair of Indians came back. But by nothing, not even the faintest
irrepressible inflection of voice was that wish made manifest.
It broke over Mary suddenly that this would never happen. Aunt Lucile
might die at her post, but she'd never, in Graham's presence, retire
through a door which was known to lead to her bedroom. She rose and going
around to her aunt's chair, laid a light hand on her shoulder. But she
spoke to Graham.
"Let's go out and bring in the wanderers," she said. "Aunt Lucile has had
a pretty long day and I know she won't be able to go to sleep until
Sylvia is tucked in for the night."
When the door had closed behind them and they stood where the path,
already faintly indicated, led down to the road, he stopped with a jerk
and mutely looked at her.
"Do you know where that fence of theirs is?" she asked.
"Yes, I guess so," he said. Then--it was almost a cry--"Must we go there?
"I don't know that we need." (Why should he be tortured like that! What
did it matter if the rigidity of some of her nightmare-born resolutions
got relaxed a little?) "Where do you want to go with me?"
He didn't answer for a minute, but when he did speak his voice was
steady enough. "There's a place up on the top of this hill where the
trees open out to the east, a lovely place. I went up there last night
after Rush had turned in. There'll be a moon along in a few minutes and
you can see it come up, from there. Could we wait for it?--I suppose Miss
"No, she'll be all right," Mary said. "Now that she thinks we're looking
As she moved up the slope she added, "I've a sort of interest in the
moon, myself, to-night."
"Perhaps if you'll take my hand--" he said stiffly. "It is dark here
under the trees."
Her single-minded intention had been to make him a little happier. She
liked him better to-night than ever, and that was saying a lot. But this
elaborate covering up of what he really wanted under the pretended need
of guiding her, tried her patience. The pretense was for himself, too, as
much as for her. He was holding her off at arm's length behind him as if
they were scaling an Alp!
In the spirit of mischief, half irritated, half amused, she crowded up to
his side and turned her hand so that their palms lay together. And she
said in a voice evenly matter-of-fact, "That's nicer, isn't it?"
He didn't succeed in producing anything audible in answer to that, but he
began presently, and rather at random, to talk. As if--she reflected,
mutinously,--some fact that must on no account be looked at would emerge,
un-escapable, the moment he stopped.
But the bewitching loveliness of the place he led her to made amends,
sponged away her irritation, brought back the Arcadian mood of the day. A
recently fallen apple tree just on the crest of the hill, offered in its
crotched arms a seat for both of them. With an ease which thrilled her he
lifted her in his hands to her place and vaulted up beside her. His arm
(excusably, again, for the hand was seeking a hold to steady him), crept
around behind her.
Once more he began to talk,--of nature, of the farm, of how it was the
real way to live, as we were meant to. One couldn't, of course, cut off
the city altogether. There were concerts and things. And the
companionship of old friends. Even at that it would be lonely. They had
felt it already. That was why it was such a marvelous thing to have her
here. She made a different world of it. Just as she had made what seemed
like a home out of that old apple house. No one could do that but a
woman, of course ...
She was no longer irritated by this. She barely listened, beyond noting
his circuitous but certain approach to the point of asking her, once
more, to marry him.
Her body seemed drugged with the loveliness of the night, with fatigue,
with him, with the immediacy of him,--but her mind was racing as it does
Nature was not, of course, the gentle sentimentalist Graham was talking
about, but one did get something out of close communion with her. A sense
of fundamentals. She was a--simplifier of ideas. Plain and
straightforward even in her enchantments. That moon they were waiting
for.... Already she was looking down upon a pair of lovers, somewhere,--a
thousand pairs!--with her bland unseeing face. And later to-night, long
after she had risen on them, upon a thousand more.
Of lovers? Well perhaps not. Not if one insisted upon the poets'
descriptions. But good enough for nature's simple purposes. Answering to
a desire, faint or imperious, that would lead them to put on her harness.
Take on her work.
Anthony March had never put on a harness. A rebel. And for the price of
his rebellion never had heard his music, except in his head. Clear
torment they could be, he had told her, those unheard melodies. Somehow
she could understand that. There was an unheard music in her. An
unfulfilled destiny, at all events, which was growing clamorous as the
echo of the boy's passion-if it were but an echo-pulsed in her throat,
drew her body down by insensible relaxations closer upon his.
The moon came up and they watched it, silent. The air grew heavy. The
call of a screech-owl made all the sound there was. She shivered and he
drew her, unresisting, tighter still. Then he bent down and kissed her.
He said, presently, in a strained voice, "You know what I have been
asking. Does that mean yes?"
She did not speak. The moon was up above the trees, yellow now. She
remembered a great broad voice, singing:
"Low hangs the moon. It rose late.
It is lagging-O I think it is heavy with love, with love"
With a passion that had broken away at last, the boy's hands took
possession of her. He kissed her mouth, hotly, and then again; drew back
gasping and stared into her small pale face with burning eyes. Her head
turned a little away from him.
"... Whichever way I turn, O I think you could give me
My mate back again if you only would,
For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way I look.
O rising stars!..."
The languor was gone. She shivered and sat erect, he watching her in an
agony of apprehension. She looked slowly round at him.
"You haven't answered!" His voice broke over that into a sob. "Will you
marry me, Mary?"
"I don't know," she said dully, like one struggling out of a dream. "I
will if I can. I meant to for a while, I think. But ..."
He leaped to the ground and stood facing her with clenched hands. "I
ought to be shot," he said. "I'm not fit to touch you--a white thing like
you. I didn't mean to. Not like that. I meant ..."
She stared for an instant, totally at a loss for the meaning--the mere
direction of what he was trying to say. Then, slipping down from the
branch, she took him by the arms. "Don't!" she cried rather wildly.
"Don't talk like that! That's the last impossibility. Listen. I'm going
to tell you why."
But he was not listening for what it might be. He was still morosely
preoccupied with his own crime. He had been a beast! He had bruised, once
more, the white petals of a flower!
It was not that her courage failed. She saw he wouldn't believe. That he
couldn't be made to believe. It was no use. If he looked at her any
longer like that, she would laugh.
She buried her face in her arms and sobbed.
He rose to this crisis handsomely, waited without a word until she was
quiet and then suggested that they go and find Rush and Sylvia. And until
they were upon the point of joining the other pair nothing more was said
that had any bearing on what had happened in the apple tree. But in that
last moment he made a mute appeal for a chance to say another word.
He reminded her that she had said she would marry him if she could. This
was enough for him. More than he deserved. He was going back to the
beginning to try to build anew what his loss of self-control had wrecked.
She need say nothing now. If she'd wait, she'd see.
A CLAIRVOYANT INTERVAL
It was still May and the North Carolina mountain-side that John Wollaston
looked out upon was at the height of its annual debauch of azalea blooms,
a symphonic romance in the key of rose-color with modulations down to
strawberry and up to a clear singing white. For him though, the invalid,
cushioned and pillowed in an easy chair, a rug over his knees, these
splendors and the perfume of the soft bright air that bathed them had an
He had arrived with Paula at this paradise early in the week, pretty well
exhausted with the ordinary fatigues of less than a day's journey in the
train. They were feeding him bouillon, egg-nogs and cream. On Paula's arm
he had managed this afternoon, his first walk, a matter of two or three
hundred yards about the hotel gardens, and at the end of it had been glad
to subside, half reclining into this easy chair, placed so that through
the open door and the veranda it gave upon, he could enjoy the view of
the color-drenched mountain-side.
He had dismissed Paula peremptorily for a real walk of her own. He had
told her, in simple truth, that he would enjoy being left to himself for
a while. She had taken this assurance for an altruistic mendacity, but
she had yielded at last to his insistence and gone, under an exacted
promise not to come back for at least an hour.
It offered some curious compensations though, this state of
helplessness--a limpidity of vision, clairvoyant almost. For a fortnight
he had been like a spectator sitting in the stalls of a darkened theatre
watching the performances upon a brilliantly lighted stage,
himself--himselves among the characters, for there was a past and a
future self for him to look at and ponder upon. The present self hardly
counted. All the old ambitions, desires, urgencies, which had been his
impulsive forces were gone--quiescent anyhow. He was as sexless, as cool,
as an image carved in jade.
And he was here in this lover's paradise--this was what drew the tribute
of a smile to the humor of the high gods--with Paula. And Paula was more
ardently in love with him than she had ever been before.
The quality of that smile must have carried over to the one he gave her
when she came back, well within her promised hour, from her walk. One
couldn't imagine anything lovelier or more inviting than the picture she
made framed in that doorway, coolly shaded against the bright blaze that
came in around her. She looked at him from there, for a moment,
"I don't believe you have missed me such a lot after all," she said.
"What have you been doing all the while?"
"Crystal-gazing," he told her.
She came over to him and took his hands, a caress patently enough through
the nurse's pretext that she was satisfying herself that he had not got
cold sitting there. She relinquished them suddenly, readjusted his rug
and pillows, then kissed him and told him she was going to the office to
see if there were any letters and went out again. She was gone but a
moment or two; returning, she dropped the little handful which were
addressed to him into his lap and carried one of her own to a chair near
He dealt idly with the congratulatory and well-wishing messages which
made up his mail. There was but one of them that drew even a gleam of
clearly focused intelligence from him. He gave most of his attention to
Paula. She was a wonderful person to watch,--the expressiveness of her,
that every nerve and muscle of her body seemed to have a part in. She
had opened that letter of hers with nothing but clear curiosity. The
envelope evidently had told her nothing. She had frowned, puzzled, over
the signature and then somehow, darkened, sprung to arms as she made it
out. She didn't read it in an orderly way even then; seemed to be trying
to worry the meaning out of it, like one stripping off husks to get down
to some sort of kernel inside. Satisfied that she had got it at last,
she dropped the letter carelessly on the floor, subsided a little deeper
into her chair and turned a brooding face toward the outdoor light and
away from him.
"Are you crystal-gazing, too?" he asked. Unusually, she didn't turn at
his voice and her own was monotonous with strongly repressed emotion.
"I don't need to. I spent more than a week staring into mine."
That lead was plain enough, but he avoided, deliberately though rather
idly, following it up. The rustle of paper told her that he had turned
back to his letters.
"Anything in your mail?" she asked.
"I think not. You can look them over and see if I've missed anything. To
a man in my disarticulate situation people don't write except to express
the kindness of their hearts. Here's a letter from Mary designed to
prevent me from worrying about her. Full of pleasant little anecdotes
about farm life. It's thoroughly Arcadian, she says. A spot designed by
Heaven for me to rusticate in this summer when--when we go back to town.
Somehow, I never did inhabit Arcady. There's a letter from Martin
Whitney, too, that's almost alarmingly encouraging in its insistence that
I mustn't worry. If only they knew how little I did--these days!"
"Well, that's all right then," she said. "Because those were Doctor
Darby's orders. You weren't to be excited or worried about anything. But,
John, is it really true that you don't? Not about anything?"
The fact that her face was still turned away as she asked that question
gave it a significance which could not be overlooked.
"It's perfectly true," he asserted. "I don't believe I could if I
tried. But there's something evidently troubling you. Let's have it.
Oh, don't be afraid. You've no idea what an--Olympian position one
finds himself in when he has got half-way across the Styx and come
back. Tell me about it."
"You know all about it already. I told you the first day you could
talk--that I was going to give up singing altogether except just for
you,--when you wanted me to. I knew I'd been torturing you about it. I
thought perhaps you'd get well quicker,--want to get well more--if you
knew that the torture wasn't to go on. It was true and it is true.
Perhaps you thought it was just one of those lies that people tell
invalids--one of those don't-worry things. Well, is wasn't.
"But you made me promise I wouldn't do anything--wouldn't break my
Ravinia contract--until we could talk it all out together. Your
temperature went up a little that afternoon and when Doctor Darby asked
me why, I told him. He said I mustn't, on any account, speak again to you
about it until you brought the subject up yourself. I don't know whether
he'd call this bringing it up or not, but anyway that's it. I've kept my
promise to you though," she concluded. "I haven't written. They still
think I am going to sing this summer."
"I am very glad of that," he said quietly. "I thought the thing was
settled by our first talk. I didn't realize that you had taken it merely
She was still turned rigidly away from him, but the grip of one of her
hands upon the arm of a chair betrayed the excitement she was laboring
under, while it showed the effort she was making to hold it down.
"I didn't think, though," he went on, "that that resolution of yours to
give up your whole career,--make ducks and drakes of it, in obedience to
my whim--was nothing more than one of those pious lies that invalids are
fed upon. I knew you meant it, my dear. I knew you'd have done
it--then--without a falter or a regret."
"Then or now," she said. "It's all the same. No, it isn't! Now more than
then. With less regret. Without a shadow of a regret, John,--if it would
bring you back to me."
The last words were muffled, for she had buried her face in her hands.
He had heard the ring of undisguised passion in her voice without an
answering pulse-beat, sat looking at her thoughtfully, tenderly. The
reflection that occupied his mind was with what extravagant joy he would
have received such an assurance only a few weeks ago. On any one of those
last days before his illness fastened upon him;--the Sunday he had gone
to Hickory Hill alone because Paula had found she must work with March
that day; the evening when he had made his last struggle against the
approaching delirium of fever in order to telephone for an ambulance to
get him out of that hated house. What a curious compound of nerve ends
and gland activities a man's dreams--that he lived by, or died for--were!
She pulled him out of his reverie by a deliberate movement of resolution,
taking her hands away from her face, half rising and turning her chair so
that she faced him squarely.
"I want to know in so many words," she said, "why you're glad that I'm
still bound to that Ravinia thing. You seem to want me to sing there
this summer, as much as you hated the idea of my doing it before. Well,
why? Or is it something you can't tell me? And if I sing and make a
success, shall you want me to go on with it, following up whatever
opening it offers; just as if--just as if you didn't count any more in my
life at all?"
Before he could answer she added rather dryly, "Doctor Darby would kill
me for talking to you like this. You needn't answer if it's going to
"No," he said, "it isn't hurting me a bit. But I'll answer one question
at a time, I think. The first thing that occurred to me when you spoke of
the Ravinia matter was that I didn't want you to break your word. You had
told them that they could count on you and I didn't want you, on my
account, to be put in a position where any one could accuse you of having
failed him. My own word was involved, for that matter. I told LaChaise I
wouldn't put any obstacles, in your way. Of course, I didn't contract
lobar pneumonia on purpose," he added with a smile.
The intensity of her gaze did not relax at this, however. She was waiting
"The other question isn't quite so easy to answer," he went on, "but I
think I would wish you to--follow the path of your career wherever it
leads. I shall always count for as much as I can in your life, but
not--if I can help it--as an obstacle."
"Why?" she asked. "What has made the perfectly enormous difference?"
It was not at all an unanswerable question; nor one, indeed, that he
shrank from. But it wanted a little preliminary reflection. She
interrupted before he was ready to speak.
"Of course, I really know. Have known all along. You haven't
He echoed that word with a note of helplessness.
"No," she conceded. "That isn't it, exactly. I can't talk the way you and
Mary can. I suppose you have forgiven me, as far as that goes. That's the
worst of it. If you hadn't there'd be more to hope for. Or beg for. I'd
do that if it were any good. But this is something you can't help. You're
kind and sweet to me, but you've just stopped caring. For me. What used
to be there has just--gone snap. It's not your fault. I did it myself."
"No," he said quickly. "That's where you're altogether wrong. You didn't
do it. You had nothing to do with the doing of it."
She winced, visibly, at the implication that, whoever was responsible,
the thing was done.
"Paula, dearest!" he cried, in acute concern. "Wait! There are things
that can't be dealt with in a breath. That's why I was trying to think a
little before I answered."
Even now he had to marshal his thoughts for a moment before he could go
on. It was too ridiculous, that look of tragic desperation she wore while
she waited! He averted his eyes and began rather deliberately.
"You are dearer to me now--at this moment, as we sit here--than ever
you've been before. I think that's the simple literal truth. This matter
of forgiveness--of your having done something to forfeit or to destroy
my--love for you... Oh, it's too wildly off the facts to be dealt with
rationally! I owe you my life. That's not a sentimental exaggeration.
Even Steinmetz says so. And you saved it for me at the end of a period of
weeks--months I guess--when I had been devoting most of my spare energies
to torturing you. Myself, incidentally, but there was nothing meritorious
about that. In an attempt to assert a--proprietary right in you that you
had never even pretended to give me. That I'd once promised you I never
would assert. The weight of obligation I'm under to you would be
absolutely crushing--if it weren't for one thing that relieves me of it
altogether. The knowledge that you love me. That you did it all for the
love of me."
She moved no nearer him. These were words. There was no reassurance for
her in them. One irrepressible movement of his hands toward her, the mere
speaking of her name in a voice warmed by the old passion, would have
brought her, rapturous, to his knees.
"There's no such thing as a successful pretense between us, I know," he
said. "So I'll talk plainly. I'm glad to. I know what it is you miss in
me. It's gone. Temporarily I suppose, but gone as if it had never been.
That's a--physiological fact, Paula."
She flushed hotly at that and looked away from him.
"I don't know exactly what a soul is," he went on. "But I do know that a
body--the whole of the body--is the temple of it. It impenetrates
everything; is made up of everything. Well, this illness of mine has, for
these weeks, made an old man of me. And I'm grateful to it for giving me
a chance to look ahead, before it's too late. I want to make the most of
it. Because you see, my dear, in ten years--or thereabouts--the course of
nature will have made of me what this pneumonia has given me a foretaste
of. Ten years. You will be--forty, then."
She was gazing at him now, fascinated, in unwilling comprehension. "I
hate you to talk like that," she said. "I wish you wouldn't."
"It's important," he told her crisply. "You'll see that in a minute, if
you will wait. Before very long--in a month or so, perhaps--I shall be, I
suppose, pretty much the same man I was--three months ago. Busy at my
profession again. In love with you again. All my old self-assurance back;
the more arrogant if it isn't quite the real thing. So now's the time,
when the fogs one moves about in have lifted and the horizon is sharp, to
take some new bearings. And set a new course by them. For both of us.
"There is one fact sitting up like a lighthouse on a rock. I'm
twenty-four years older than you. Every five years that we live together
from now on will make that difference more important. When you're
forty-five--and you'll be just at the top of your powers by then--I shall
be one year short of seventy. At the end, you see, even of my
professional career. And that's only fifteen years away. Even with good
average luck, that's all I can count on. It's strange how one can live
along, oblivious to a simple sum in arithmetic like that."
She had been on her feet moving distractedly about the room. Now she came
around behind his chair and gripped his body in her strong arms.